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Sen. Murphy: Private market is failing, health care workers in 'absolute panic' over supply shortages

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) wants the federal government to take over the medical supply chain, as hospitals scramble to find enough supplies and protective gear for health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Medical professionals are in absolute panic right now. Panic. They do not have enough masks to last them through this week,” said Murphy in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “They are going to start getting sick. They’re going to stop showing up for work.”

“Havoc,” Murphy said, “will be wrought when medical professionals stop showing up and hospitals close down.”

Murphy and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) announced new legislation on Monday that would force President Trump to use the Defense Production Act and federalize the manufacture and distribution of some medical supplies. President Trump signed the DPA, but has been hesitant to actually use the powers to order private companies to boost production of medical supplies.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

“We have the threat of [the Defense Production Act], if we need it. We may have to use it somewhere along the supply chain, in a minor way,” said Trump in a press briefing on Sunday. “I mean, when this was announced, it sent tremors through our business community and through our country because, basically, what are you doing?  You're talking about — you’re going to nationalize an industry or you're going to nationalize — you're going to take away companies. You're going to tell companies what to do.”

Murphy argues telling companies what to do isn’t enough. The senator says Congress and the administration need to nationalize the distribution of supplies.

“The whole supply chain is broken down,” said Murphy. “Right now the private market is failing. It is absolutely failing.”

“I'm a believer in the private market, but not in times of crisis when the private market is incentivizing hoarding and gouging,” he added.

Murphy acknowledged his legislation likely won’t be in the Phase 3 economic stimulus package, but he’s hopeful it could be considered later this week.

President Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced an executive order on Monday evening aimed at preventing price gauging and hoarding.

“They refuse to take it seriously”

Murphy also blasted President Trump for apparently suggesting in a tweet that the administration could back off strict isolation measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

President Trump told reporters on Monday evening that the administration would reevaluate the situation at the end of the 15 day period. He explained that the U.S. would not be back to business in a week, but he believes it will be sooner than 3 to 4 months.

“The administration has been an abysmal failure in confronting this virus. They refuse to take it seriously,” said Murphy. “Maybe the most dangerous thing that the president has done is this new path that he has taken through social media, to start suggesting that we may give up, we may give up on fighting the virus and just accept that it's going to kill a million Americans — which would be immoral, unconscionable, and an economic and public health disaster.”

Lawmakers are still negotiating an economic relief package that could come with a $2 trillion price tag. A procedural vote to move the bill forward has now failed twice in the Senate. Murphy told Yahoo Finance the Senate could vote again Monday night or Tuesday morning.

“There is, I think, some real concern that the drafting was very sloppy and that much of the money might end up in the hands of companies and corporations that don't end up using it to restore and maintain jobs,” said Murphy. “This is obviously a crisis in which hours matter, but you're spending $2 trillion — so you want to get that right. The worst thing to happen here would be to spend $2 trillion and have it not result in the virus’ spread being halted. That would be an absolute disaster.”

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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